Our second installment of hickory-themed malls in Tennessee brings us to Antioch, a neighborhood of Nashville located 10 miles southeast of downtown. Thoroughly suburban, Antioch is home to housing developments from the post-war era to present day, with a large housing stock of starter homes intended for blue collar families. As such, Antioch is a diverse mix of residents from many economic levels, ranging from recent immigrants to native Tennesseeans. Recently, though, a demographic shift has brought more immigrants and minorities to Antioch than ever before, making it much more diverse.
As Antioch grew, a large, regional mall was developed in 1978 near the interchange of Bell Road and Interstate 24. Called Hickory Hollow Mall, it was Nashville’s second super-regional mall after north-suburban Rivergate and the largest mall in the south half of metro Nashville. It’s also only a few miles away from the much smaller and older Harding Mall, which was demolished in 2006. Its location was somewhat strategic, taking advantage of proximity to the monied areas of south Nashville as well as being only 20 minutes from fast-growing Murfreesboro.
About the time Hickory Hollow originally opened in the late 1970s, it was anchored by Nashville-based Castner Knott, Nashville-based Cain-Sloan, and Sears. JCPenney jumped on board in 1982, its own wing of in-line stores, giving the mall a T-shape. The ceiling of the two-level mall is a very dated-yet-cool latticework of steel under glass, giving the mall natural light during the day.
In 1987, Cain-Sloan closed and became Dillard’s, and somewhere along the way a food court was constructed in the space connecting the Sears and JCPenney wings.
In the early 1990s, Hickory Hollow received another expansion and a facelift. The old Dillard’s/Cain-Sloan building was demolished and moved outward, while the old location became more in-line mall space, giving the mall its signature cross shape. This update was timely – four regional or super-regional malls opened in the Nashville area between 1990 and 1992: Bellevue Center, located west of downtown, The Mall at Green Hills, located south of downtown, CoolSprings Galleria, located even farther south in growing Franklin and Stones River Mall, located in Murfreesboro. Very quickly Hickory Hollow became the oldest and least convenient mall to the fast-growing and wealthy areas of metro Nashville.
In spite of the sudden onslaught of competition, Hickory Hollow held its own through the 1990s and even into the 2000s, retaining all its anchor stores until 2006 and enjoying a relatively low vacancy rate. However, the types of stores popping up at Hickory Hollow very slowly changed from national, popular chains to urban mom-and-pop stores, athletic wear, and stores catering to a changing demographic. Very slowly, Hickory Hollow began to decline.
Also in the late 1990s and 2000s, more anchor changes and closures took place, ultimately leaving Hickory Hollow with two of them empty by 2008. In 1998, Castner Knott closed and was sold to Dillard’s. Since Dillard’s already had stores in nearly every Nashville-area mall due to the Cain-Sloan acquisition in 1987, Dillard’s immediately sold the Nashville Castner Knott stores to Alcoa, Tenn.-based Proffitt’s. Very soon, though, Proffitt’s determined the Nashville acquisitions were not profitable, and sold them to May Company in 2001, who curiously branded them as Washington, D.C.- based Hecht’s. Why May chose to name them Hecht’s is somewhat of a mystery, considering May had far closer regional banners in Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayres and St. Louis-based Famous-Barr.
Between 2002 and 2003, Chattanooga-based CBL, Hickory Hollow Mall’s owner, decided to invest a little dough into a few upgrades in an attempt to slow the slide into obsolescence. They added some stunning new entrances, carpeted parts of the mall, replaced railings and fixtures, and upgraded the food court.
Here’s a picture looking toward Sears from 2001, before the renovation:
And after the renovation, taken in 2010:
2006 was a pivotal year for Hickory Hollow Mall. In the midst of its slow decline, anchor JCPenney decided to jump ship that year for a new outdoor retail development in Mt. Juliet called Providence Marketplace, which is located several miles north of Antioch along the I-40 corridor. JCPenney wasn’t dead long, however, because Steve and Barry’s jumped in and opened almost right away. Also in 2006, Hecht’s came under the ownership of Federated, who converted all the former May banners to Macy’s in September of that year. Through the changes, all four anchors remained filled at Hickory Hollow Mall.
However, in the latter 2000s the decline at Hickory Hollow was further exacerbated by anchor woes as well as fleeing in-line stores. In August 2008, Dillard’s gave up and closed their store, and in 2009 Steve and Barry’s went bankrupt nationwide, giving Hickory Hollow two dark anchors in as many years. In addition, mini-anchor Linens ‘n Things also closed in 2008, and several more boxes on and around the outlots closed too. Even worse, the mall’s appraisal value shrank to $30.2 million, down from $70 million in 2005. Also, in 2009 U.S. News and World Report placed Hickory Hollow on its 10 most endangered malls list. However, despite all these problems, Hickory Hollow was listed as being 82% leased in 2008.
As of 2010, Macy’s and Sears continue to operate at Hickory Hollow, but the ship is sinking fast. Most of the former JCPenney corridor is completely dead, and there are notable vacancies throughout the mall. In January 2010 alone, five national chains left the mall – Chick-Fil-A, The Childrens Place, Hot Topic, New York and Company, and Lane Bryant. There are currently plans floating around for part of the mall to be leased by Nashville State Community College, but nothing has come to fruition yet. In addition, plans for a WIC clinic to be added to the mall were proposed and dropped. The city council voted against this clinic due to extreme opposition by neighborhood residents and mall patrons, who believed the clinic would kill the mall even faster than it is already dying. Fair enough.
I think what plagues Hickory Hollow most is common to many tales of retail decline. The neighborhood around the mall is not only perceived to be transient, but also lacking in safety. There are even facts to support this, but what’s undoubtedly clearer is that neighborhoods with a solid base and ones which have cultivated a branding of coolness or wealth have fared far better. The Mall At Green Hills is in one of these neighborhoods, and they just broke ground on Tennessee’s first Nordstrom.
This sullied image, combined with all the competition has given Nashville folks absolutely no reason to go to Hickory Hollow. Because Hickory Hollow didnt reinvent or woo some coveted specialty retailer, the only people who are going to shop here are locals who live or work in the neighborhood. Hickory Hollow may have began as one of Nashville’s premier super-regional malls, a destinational draw, but today it’s just a neighborhood center living on borrowed time in the shell of its former self. Not a pretty picture. One suggestion: Ikea? Or maybe Bass Pro? This place is really well located right next to a major freeway, so the locational advantage is there – they just have to make the best use of it. On the other hand, maybe retail isn’t in the cards here anymore, and a total redevelopment is in order. I think that’s putting the cart a bit before the horse though – even though I can see the horse coming on the horizon.
We visited Hickory Hollow twice – in May 2001 and in April 2010. Take a look at the photos before and after the mall’s 2002-2003 renovation.